My job requires that I have good instincts, and mine are impeccable, if I do say so myself. Most of my nights off are spent alone, or at Mr. Chan’s, a Chinese food place downtown. The food is good, and old Mr. Chan has taken a liking to me. I would say he’s my one and only friend—because in my business you don’t have many.
I mainly sit and watch diners come and go. Husbands and wives sitting together, barely a word spoken. College kids grabbing a bite to eat before seeing a show at Club Rico. Most days the clientele is hardly worth noting—then she walked in.
She was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Her dark curly hair, wound its way down her back, stopping just shy of her waist. Her skin was flawless, her lips full. Her bright blue eyes were gorgeous, as they searched the restaurant, obviously looking for someone. When she didn’t find them, the beauty took a seat at a table near the entrance.
I sat and observed, because that’s what I do best.
I saw her come in several times after that, usually alone, on occasion with what looked like a date—never the same man twice. They’d sit close, she’d laugh, but it wasn’t a real laugh. It was one meant to keep her suitors at a distance, make them think she was interested. I knew that trick, I’d done it myself. Sometimes in my line of work, you had to charm the target, make them believe you’re best friends, or that you were in love with them before . . . well before doing the job you were hired to do.
I didn’t stare at her—and believe me I wanted to. I wanted to take it all in, but I had to be careful not to draw attention to myself. In my business, I had to remain invisible. It was important that I be discreet; the kind of person no one would take notice of, or be able to describe to law enforcement—if it ever came to that. That’s how I do my job and never get caught. She’d definitely remember some creep staring at her from a dark corner in a Chinese food restaurant. So I played it cool.
Tonight she wasn’t alone. She came in with a man I’d seen her with before, and I was surprised by the jealous feelings that crept to the surface. He was the only one I saw her with more than once, and I wondered if this was the beginning of a serious relationship. He was tall, smug, but good looking—in a nondescript kind of way. He reminded me of some vapid model from a cheap cologne ad. Still, I could see why she was attracted to him.
He sat across from her, angrily wiping the tears from her face. She slapped his hand away, then he squeezed her arm tightly. The woman squirmed in agony, and I knew this wasn’t the first time this asshole had hurt her. After they ate, he said something, and her tears returned. Then this fucker slammed down the fortune cookie he was about to consume, threw some cash on the table, and dragged the woman of my dreams out of the restaurant. At least he paid for dinner.
I don’t know what made me follow them that first time. If I’m being honest, I just wanted to see her life outside the confines of Mr. Chan’s. Whatever the real reason, I told myself I was doing it to make sure he didn’t hurt her again—and that was part of it.
He took her to a place six blocks east of Chan’s, this was where she lived, but not with him—I was relieved. She wrestled her hand free from his, and stormed into the building. He shrugged, and I could see him shake his head and chuckle. Then this jerk got into his car and drove off.
I saw a light go on in the apartment on the 4th floor. She was in there safe—at least for tonight.
I didn’t even try to make up an excuse, the second time I followed her. She had come to Chan’s alone, I hoped this meant she had given that asshole the boot. She placed an order, and got it to go. I was up and out the door before I could talk myself out of it. There was something about her that drew me in, and caused me to do things against my better judgement—like follow her home. I couldn’t let this obsession interfere with my work, and so far it hadn’t. I still received my assignments, and completed them successfully. But I was taking less and less jobs, simply so I could watch this stranger from afar. I was no longer an objective observer, I had an emotional stake in what happened to her.
She walked back to her apartment, then something happened just before she entered the lobby. She paused with her key hovering in front of the lock, then turned as if surveying the street around her. I thought, ‘no she couldn’t have seen me.’ But it looked like she did, like our eyes met and locked for just a split second. Now this is when I knew I had lost perspective, where fact began mixing with fantasy, and I wondered if any of it was it real. Because truthfully there was a part of me that wanted her to see me, so I could come out of the shadows and tell her how I felt. I was trying to function as if I were doing just another job. This was anything but a typical job.
He was with her again, the good looking smug one. Both were angry, and sat across the table, barely looking at one another. When the waiter came over, she shrugged, so the jerk ordered for them both. I could tell it upset her. It’s amazing what you can learn about someone just by watching them closely.
They ate quickly and left, so of course I followed them. I just accepted that this was a behavior I couldn’t—no, that I didn’t want to stop. They walked the six blocks to her place, and outside of her apartment complex, they argued again. Then he did the unthinkable—he slapped her. The look on her face broke my heart, and I was tempted to come to her rescue, but I couldn’t get involved —not yet.
That bastard got into his car and drove off. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I followed him.
He lived in an expensive townhouse on the north end. Mr. Smug, fresh off of hitting the dark haired beauty, went inside. And I watched. I was good at it, this was second nature to me. I’d get to know his routine, then I’d formulate a plan.
He hit her again, and I knew I had to do something fast.
Now, instead of spending my nights off at Mr. Chan’s, I started sitting outside her place, looking for an opportunity to put my skills to good use. They argued constantly, and one night this jerk reached back and slapped her so hard, she stumbled and fell to the ground. It took everything I had not to kill him right then and there, but I had to bide my time. I told you I was good at my job, and in my line of work, you never acted impulsively.
I began watching the asshole more closely. He liked to spend his Monday nights at a bar called Brody’s on 5th and Westchester. There was a blonde waitress there that he took a liking to—she couldn’t hold a candle to the dark haired beauty though. I watched him from a back table. He’d drink, pretend to watch the game, wait for her shift to end, then they’d go fuck in his car. He’d take her home, and drop her off, and they’d do it all over again the following Monday. Why anyone would find this satisfying is beyond me, but blondie didn’t seem to mind.
Afterwards he would drive home—like always, and park in his garage—as usual. People were so predictable, which made my job a lot easier. Even a job of my own choosing—one I was willing to risk everything for.
I wanted him to see me before the end. I wanted him to shit his pants and beg me to let him go. I took him to one of my rooms—one I used for my official assignments. I waited for the sedative to run its course, and when he finally opened his eyes, he just blinked at the bright light over the table. Then he tried to move; but I restrained him very well, he wasn’t going anywhere.
“Hello, uh . . . Roger Mason,” I said, looking at his license.
He just stared at me, blinking like an idiot.
Finally he said, “Hey, tell Marco I’ll get his money, I just need a few days, that’s all.” He had soiled himself, which made me smile.
“I don’t know who this Marco is, and I don’t care.”
“Then who are you, what do you want?”
I almost felt bad for him, he had no idea what he was in for. So I said, “I want you to know that hitting the pretty dark haired lady is a no-no.”
His face went blank at first, then I could see the lights go on, and Bingo! He made the connection.
“Wait, did she hire you? I’ll triple whatever she’s paying you man, just don’t do this.”
“Too late my friend, the wheels are already in motion.” Then I said, “Funny thing is Rog, I’m doing this for free.”
The terrified look in his eyes was priceless.
That was the last look anyone would see on that smug face. Because no one was ever going to find Roger Mason, and I was fairly certain that no one would miss him.
I saw her a few weeks later at Chan’s, she was already there when I arrived. I was in between assignments, contemplating this lonely life, and desiring a woman I hardly knew—this woman, the one I committed the ultimate sin for.
When she left I didn’t follow her—not this time. What would I do now, there was no one to protect her from.
Huang the busboy cleared off her table, then he came over to me with a piece of paper in his hand. He pointed to where she was sitting and said, “Lady left this for you.”
The handwriting was beautiful, and it simply said, “A good looking guy like you shouldn’t be eating alone. 555-1212 –Annabella.”
I smiled, and practically floated out of Mr. Chan’s, waving goodbye to the old man, who gave me a thumbs up.
My euphoria didn’t last though. On route to my car, two large men approached—one on my left, the other on my right.
“McManus wants to see you,” one of the oafs said.
I don’t know if I mentioned this earlier, but an unauthorized killing is frowned upon in my line of work. Going rogue can put a whole organization in jeopardy. I knew this, but hoped against hope that no one would find out. I guess the watcher was being watched.
The muscle headed idiots shoved me into the back of a waiting SUV—black with tinted windows. I was fairly certain what they were going to do to me, and it was not going to be good.
But as I said before, my job requires that I have good instincts, and mine are spectacular. It helps though that people are so predictable. They fall into habits, even without knowing it. And if you watch close enough you can figure out what they’re going to do, even before they do it.
McManus was no different.
I knew he would have me followed as soon as I started taking less assignments, he would want to know if I was still reliable. It was only a matter of time before he’d send some goons to “talk” to me.
So I took precautions.
Mr. Chan had always been my friend, and tonight was no different. I signaled him on my way out of the restaurant that tonight would be the night. Mr. Chan does more than just serve the best orange chicken in town, he dabbles in other things; things that I’ve helped him with in the past, so he owed me a favor.
I sat calmly in between the big oafs and waited. We were at a red light, and I heard the unmistakable “pop-pop” of a gun that hit the driver in the temple, he was dead instantly. Before the clown in the passenger seat could react, he was dead too. I had already taken care of oaf number one with a needle I had hidden on my person, and oaf number 2 was left immobile with a couple of well-placed strikes, then I slit his throat.
Chan’s men took care of everything after that. They made it look like an accident; five horribly burned bodies in an SUV that careened off the East Point Bridge. Of course I would be considered one of the dead by McManus—at least for a while.
Back at the restaurant, I thanked my good friend Mr. Chan for his help. We both knew this would be the last time we’d see each other. McManus was predictable, but he wasn’t dumb, he’d find out eventually that I was still among the living, so I’d have to leave town ASAP.
I’d been working for McManus in one way or another since I was a kid, I never thought I’d do anything else. Now the possibilities were limitless, my life was finally my own and I could start over.
But I had one last thing to do before I left—and I’m sure you know what that is.
I couldn’t believe how nervous I was, I felt like some acne riddled teenager asking out the head cheerleader. With the note clutched in one sweaty hand, I dialed her number. Her voice was husky, but welcoming, and I realized I had never really heard her speak before.
“Hello Annabella, my name is Logan.”
“Well, hello Logan,” she said, and I melted at the sound of her voice.
I took a deep breath and continued, “I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner.” I paused, and swallowed hard, then I said, “I think it’s time I stop eating alone.”